My first visit to this amazing site had me reeling from all that I saw. The location, set just upslope from Nutria River, was a perfect spot, with ample sandstone, a preferred building material of Ancestral Puebloan people. Then there were the two huge kivas, the smaller attached to the the village and the larger unattached to any building and set just west of the pueblo. It reminded me so much of Penasco Blanco, my favorite Chaco town.
At Penasco Blanco, there are several great kivas, one specifically, is separated from the main ruin and actually lies across the park service fence in what is likely Navajo Reservation or BLM land. (What? Yes, of course I jumped the fence, shhhh don’t tell the Park Service or they may not rehire me.) In a future post I will spend more time on Penasco Blanco and all the wonders there but the clear relationship of a disassociated great kiva intended to serve as a gathering place for outlying smaller communities cannot be ignored. Casa Rinconada, the largest great kiva in Chaco Canyon would be another similar example of an isolated great kiva that comes to mind.
Finding the array of petroglyphs covering the naturally varnished panels above the site gave life to the ruin, showing much of the thought and dreams of the people who had dwelt there nearly a thousand years before. We walked along that high trail, scouring every flat surface for more rock art. Finally as I worked my way east, it seemed that the finding of the panels was at an end. But the trail went on around the corner and continued around to the east facing bluff. Could there be more glyphs? I had to know.
As I clambered through a notch formed by sandstone boulders that had tumbled down from above I looked up and stopped. I am sure my breathing literally stopped for a moment as I saw things I could not have imagined would be waiting there.
Spread out before me, larger than life and in vivid natural colors were masks, kok’ko masks. Animals, human representations and imaginary creatures surrounded me, wrapped around a slightly concave panel protected by a overhanging roof of stone. Beyond lay another array of masks that were slightly more exposed and so somewhat more weathered and yet nonetheless impressive in their stoic display.
Shalakos, ogres, animals masks, Comanches and other masks vied with each other for my attention as I sat down on a handy rock and at my leisure simply surveyed the amazing tableau. After perusing the pictographs for a time I began to notice evidence of other drawings that appeared more weathered and older than these. It set me to wondering if there were older paintings that had been replaced and also how long these panels may have been used. Thinking back to Penasco Blanco, anyone who has hiked that trail and seen the numerous petroglyphs that adorn the sandstone walls along the way can only begin to wonder at the lost art — the pictographs that once were left by the ancestral puebloan people in celebration of their lives and religious beliefs.